When it emerged that Ian Black had admitted betting against his own team in three of the 160 bets he made on football matches in a six-year period, the first question on many lips was whether that included his current club Rangers.
His previous Scottish clubs Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Hearts may have wondered if he bet against them – he had two bets on Hearts not to win when he was not playing in the matches on which he gambled – but the real issue was what Rangers would make of Black if he was guilty of betting against his club.
For Rangers are his current employer, and as such, had every right to treat him as a rogue employee – to sack him because, in the words of employment law, there had been an irretrievable breakdown of the necessary trust between employer and employee.
Last night, Rangers manager Ally McCoist was not only standing by Black, explaining that the player was “daft” and guilty of “stupidity” rather than a gross breach of trust, but that he also did not want a witch hunt against footballers breaking the Scottish Football Association’s draconian ‘zero tolerance’ rules on football betting.
At the SFA Judicial Panel on Thursday, Black admitted that he did have a bet on Rangers not winning. As part of a ten-bet accumulator with Ladbrokes, in April this year he bet that East Stirling would draw with Rangers – his other selections were apparently just as far-fetched.
The odds on that accumulator coming up were such that even a wealthy footballer would have been able to retire in comfort. And the fact is that Black not only played in the match, but scored the third goal against East Stirling in Rangers’ 4-2 win.
McCoist, who is no stranger to the world of betting, possibly even on football, knew how ludicrous the bet was.
The manager said: “I have seen every bet that he’s made and if our fans need reassured, in my opinion, Ian Black is as committed to this football club as he always has been and will do his best for it when he is selected again.
“He didn’t bet on us to get beat and having seen the bet, I don’t have an issue with it all.
“It’s a nothing bet and the money put on was nothing. That would indicate to me that if he is guilty of anything, it is of stupidity. He is certainly not guilty of anything else.
“There is a big difference. Guys get accused of match fixing and things like that, and while what he did was wrong, I don’t have a big problem with it and it has been dealt with.”
McCoist and chief executive Craig Mather spoke to Black, disciplined him, and now the manager wants to move on. “He’s got his three-match ban, seven matches suspended, and a hefty fine. We need to take it on the chin and move on,” explained McCoist.
“It’s an internal matter and disciplinary action has been taken within the club and it will remain internal.”
“He is guilty of breaking a rule and has been punished for it. That’s it, as far as I’m concerned. He’s been found guilty of doing what 85-90 percent of people within football do. I read this morning (revealed in The Scotsman) that even amateur boys aren’t allowed to bet.
“There is a potential for an unbelievable can of worms to be opened. I don’t particularly want to open it myself and I’m not particularly interested in anybody else. The point I was trying to make (a few weeks ago) is that it is completely widespread in this country.
“I don’t want to see anybody else punished just because one of our players has been punished.”
So is there an issue of trust between the manager and the player, and between the rest of the squad and Black?
“Not for me,” said McCoist. “The boys train and work with him every day and they see what he’s like. Didn’t he score in the game he made the bet on? You couldn’t make the whole thing up.
“If you’d looked at the other nine results he put on with that one – believe me, if you saw the bet, you wouldn’t bother.
“I’m not making excuses for him. He’s stuck on a daft accumulator that, if you had looked at it, you would have said there’s no reason for him to have stuck it on apart from to have a daft bet on a Saturday afternoon.
“It is stupidity. It is daft and he is no dafter than thousands of boys who are in the game.”
McCoist set out to sway the Rangers fans behind his stance: “I think the fans have been great with him. I don’t know what they will be like now. I don’t have a crystal ball. But I am reassuring the fans that Ian Black is totally committed to Rangers.”
Black will not play for the club at least until later this month, and McCoist was asked if the player should apologise to the fans.
“That’s one for Ian Black to think about,” he said. “It’s not for me to say.
“I’ve had a look through my dressing room and Ian Black’s guilty of what 95% of the players and staff are guilty of. So the hypocrisy wouldn’t be lost on me if we hammered Ian Black for something that a lot of people do.”
McCoist called for everyone in football to get a dose of rule clarification: “I would suggest the players and staff have to find out what the rules are and be crystal clear on that. It seems to me the vast majority of football players and staff, and I include myself in that, don’t know.
“In terms of wrongdoing, I’m not saying ignorance is an excuse – because it’s not – but at the same time if there’s anything good to come out of this case it’s that we’ll all know where we stand.”